|Date: Jul 16, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Egypt’s Parliament OKs controversial NGO law|
|Agence France Presse|
CAIRO: Egypt’s Parliament Monday approved amendments to a controversial law that rights groups say imposes strict curbs on non-governmental organizations.
The changes come after President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi announced last November that the law needed to be more balanced.
“The house of representatives finally approved a number of important draft laws ... including the bill regulating civil society’s work,” Egypt’s Parliament said on its website.
Under the amendments, foreign organizations are prohibited from using their headquarters for “unauthorized activities,” according to a version of the amended law in local media. They are also barred from transferring or receiving funds from persons or entities, other than predetermined sources, without official approval.
The amendments eliminate jail terms but lay down fines of up to 1 million Egyptian pounds (more than $55,000), according to local media.
Last week, 10 Egyptian rights groups, including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, rejected the new amendments as still too restrictive.
“The majority of changes in the draft NGO law are deceptive and superficial,” they said in a statement, urging the international community to intervene.
Lawmaker Mohammad Abu Hamed, however, defended the amended version.
“The law ... satisfies all the previous concerns raised by local and foreign civil society groups,” the deputy told AFP.
He said local NGOs could receive foreign funding provided the authorities had been notified and the organization did not violate any laws.
More than two-thirds of the 596-seat Parliament approved the bill, with only six MPs rejecting it, local media said.
“The draft will be sent to the presidency for ratification,” Abu Hamed said.
Foreign funding has been a contentious political issue since the 2011 revolution that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Last December, a court acquitted 43 NGO staff including Americans and Europeans accused of receiving illicit foreign funds to stir up unrest during the uprising.
Sisi has faced international condemnation for a crackdown on civil society groups since he took power in 2014, a year after the military toppled Islamist President Mohammad Morsi.
Rights groups have regularly accused Sisi’s government of human rights violations and repression of dissidents.
Egypt revamps law curbing NGOs, critics unimpressed
CAIRO: Egypt's Parliament Monday removed jail penalties from a law controlling operations of non-governmental organizations, but rights groups rejected the changes as insufficient.
Justified by officials to protect national security from meddling by foreign-funded charities, the 2017 law restricted NGOs' activity to developmental and social work, with jail terms of up to five years for non-compliance.
Activists saw it as an attempt to block humanitarian work and the law contributed to a decision by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration to freeze millions of dollars in military aid to Egypt for nearly a year.
The new legislation, approved overwhelmingly by Parliament Monday, removes the jail penalty and replaces it with fines between 200,000 and 1 million Egyptian pounds ($12,070-$60,350).
As well as ending jail sentences, the changes - which must still be ratified by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi - enable NGOs to receive money from Egypt or abroad as long as it is deposited in a bank account within 30 days.
The government has 60 days to challenge payments.
Although the new legislation was meant to answer criticisms, 10 Egyptian and international rights groups said last week the impending changes were not enough. They said other laws imposing strict controls on NGOs and civil society also needed revamping.
In 2013, 43 Americans, Europeans, Egyptians and other Arabs were sentenced to jail on charges including operating NGOs without necessary approval. Most were acquitted last year.
A case against domestic NGO workers, more than 30 of whom have been given travel bans and asset freezes, remains open.
"The new draft is but a re-marketing of the repressive law that contains a hostile attitude towards civil society groups," the 10 groups said in a statement.
"The aim is to calm international public opinion, but the changes are not in line with the constitution or Egypt's international obligations," said Mohammad Zaree, Egypt programme director at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
Charities have long played an important role in feeding, clothing and providing healthcare and education in a country where millions live on less than $2 a day.
Sisi came to power after spearheading, as defense minister, the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammad Morsi as president in 2013.
Under Sisi, Egypt has seen a crackdown on dissent that campaigners say is unprecedented in its recent history.
His backers say tough measures are necessary to stabilize Egypt, which was rocked by years of unrest after protests toppled veteran leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011.